|Here is a quick rundown on some of the best 2A matchups between GHSA teams this season:
|11/17 – No. 6 Holy Innocents’ at Riverwood5A|
|11/20 – No. 10 Rabun County at Dawson County3A|
|11/27 – No. 6 Holy Innocents’ vs. Duluth6A (Holiday Hoopsgiving)|
|11/28 – No. 2 Pace Academy vs. No. 3 Westlake6A (Holiday Hoopsgiving)|
|11/28 – Cairo4A at No. 5 Thomasville|
|12/1 – No. 2 Hancock Central1A at No. 3 Crawford County|
|12/1 – Dawson County3A at No. 10 Rabun County|
|12/1 – No. 6 Holy Innocents’ at No. 5 SWAC1A|
|12/1 – No. 8 Vidalia at No. 9 Swainsboro|
|12/4 – No. 4 Bainbridge4A at No. 1 Seminole County|
|12/4 – No. 4 GAC at No. 6 Holy Innocents’|
|12/5 – No. 2 Pace Academy vs. No. 1 Greenforest1A (Basketball Xplosion)|
|12/8 – No. 4 GAC at No. 2 Pace Academy|
|12/8 – No. 10 Rabun County at Stephens County4A|
|12/15 – No. 7 Early County at No. 1 Seminole County|
|12/18 – Stephens County4A at No. 10 Rabun County|
|12/19 – No. 5 Thomasville at No. 4 Bainbridge4A|
|12/22 – No. 4 GAC at No. 6 St. Pius4A|
|12/22 – Northside-Warner Robins5A at No. 3 Crawford County|
|1/2 – Taylor County1A at No. 3 Crawford County|
|1/5 – No. 4 Bainbridge4A at No. 5 Thomasville|
|1/5 – No. 2 Pace Academy at No. 6 Holy Innocents’|
|1/8 – No. 5 Thomasville at No. 7 Early County|
|1/8 – Bryan County at No. 8 Vidalia|
|1/9 – No. 5 Thomasville at No. 1 Seminole County|
|1/9 – No. 3 Crawford County at Taylor County1A|
|1/12 – No. 1 Seminole County at No. 4 Bainbridge4A|
|1/15 – No. 6 Holy Innocents’ at No. 4 GAC|
|1/16 – No. 3 Crawford County at Northside-Warner Robins5A|
|1/16 – Greene County at No. 10 Rabun County|
|1/19 – No. 2 Pace Academy at No. 4 GAC|
|1/23 – No. 5 Thomasville at Cairo4A|
|1/23 – No. 9 Swainsboro at No. 8 Vidalia|
|1/26 – No. 6 Holy Innocents’ at No. 2 Pace Academy|
|1/29 – No. 7 Early County at No. 5 Thomasville|
|2/2 – No. 1 Seminole County at No. 5 Thomasville|
|2/5 – No. 1 Seminole County at No. 7 Early County|
|2/5 – No. 8 Vidalia at Bryan County|
|2/5 – No. 10 Rabun County at Greene County|
If you haven’t heard, there is a new sheriff in town leading the Sandy Creek boys program. A new head coach who is a self-proclaimed “Hype-man” for his team. Anthony McKissic has taken the reins of the Patriots after spending eight years at Morrow, coaching the boys for five years and most recently the girls team for three seasons. With his new gig, McKissic inherits a team that went 17-11 in 2014-15 and enters 2015-16 as Class AAAA’s No. 5 ranked team.
McKissic and his family have lived in Peachtree City for the last two years and with his wife already working at Sandy Creek, pouncing at the job opening after Coach Willie Reese left for Meadowcreek, was a no-brainer.
Bringing over a versatility of coaching both boys and girls in the past, there are different approaches that McKissic uses to get the most out of his players.
“There’s a big difference. There’s a different motivating tool when you’re coaching girls. Boys are usually a little bit tougher, getting them to understand using skill,” explained McKissic. “Girls are obviously more skilled than boys, because boys are more athletic and tend not to want to use skill. That’s how the better teams use a mix of athleticism and skill.”
Coach McKissic uses a variety of ways to make sure his players stay fundamentally sound and play the right way. More importantly, he wants to grow men and women as people off the court. He has held a multitude of positions over his coaching career, helping coach football, tennis, cross country and being the lead recruiting coordinator while at Morrow, but possibly his most gratifying job title has been Minister. McKissic is a man of God and leans heavily on his beliefs to not only guide himself, but help others along the way.
“I think that’s the basis of my whole philosophy. I’m just blessed to be at the position that I am and somebody helped me out at a young age and I just try my best to give back to the kids and be a good role model for them and be a leader in the community and in the school.”
His faith has allowed him to touch numerous people around him, players, parents and coaches alike. When it comes to how he leads on the court, McKissic believes he pulls from both ends of the spectrum.
“I would think I am a mix between a players’ coach and a hype-man,” he said. Some coaches play it close to the vest, but McKissic is a strong supporter of making sure the players have fun while striving for the goal of being the best they can.
“I just think that if they play excited and are happy about what they are doing they’ll do it with a lot more passion,” explained the energy filled coach. “The kids are kids. They want to have fun…I think they get a better experience out of it not making it necessarily a job for them. That’s how the kids get burnt out because coaches come in and they want it to be [like a job]. I believe you can work hard and have fun at the same time.”
Coach McKissic is likely one of the funnest coaches to play for in the state. His advanced knowledge of cutting up videos, making highlight tapes and putting together pictures promoting the team have been littered all throughout social media, making fans at the Creek as excited as they have ever been for an upcoming basketball season, proud to stake claim to the fact that they are “Just a kid from Sandy Creek.”
“It’s something that I’ve done since the start of my career,” he said when speaking about his numerous ways of marketing and advertising his teams through social media.
“I use technology as a recruiting piece and a marketing piece to get the guys looked at. A lot of coaches don’t want players using it at all, but I tell them it’s okay to use it as long as you’re mature with it and are being responsible with your social media.
“It’s a tool; you can reach college coaches across the nation with the click of a finger instead of having to send out letters and DVDs. You can just shoot a link to it or shoot out a hype video to the fans and they can get excited about coming to see us play, whereas if we didn’t do that, they might not know what we have here at school.”
With hype videos being released to the public, there needs to be a good product on display. Sandy Creek shouldn’t worry about there being a letdown if everyone continues to buy into McKissic’s philosophies.
“They [fans] can expect an exciting and fast paced game. We want to give them something to come back to. We are going to work hard,” stated McKissic.
I may have put a target on the Patriots’ back this season, ranking them No. 5, but it is a challenge and responsibility that the team will embrace.
“The ranking means nothing to us, but, it does put a big target on your back so you have to make sure that you come in and every game play as if you’re respecting the person who gave you the ranking and not disrespecting them by coming out and playing lackadaisical and making it seem like the person didn’t know what they are talking about,” McKissic explained of the Patriots who were eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs last year, 63-46 by 2015-16 preseason No. 6 St. Pius.
“So if you’re going to be the No. 5 team in the state, you need to play like a No. 5 team in the state and not play down to the level of your opponent.”
The Patriots are ranked No. 5 in the state for a reason: good coaching and loads of talent. McKissic had great things to say about everyone on his roster but seven players stood out to me as being potential game-changers night in and night out.
Seniors Christian Turner, Keith Heard and AJ Freeman will be leaned on heavily to balance the offense.
Turner is a 5-foot-11 guard that is committed to Gardner-Webb.
“He’s a solid point guard. It all flows through him. He controls the ball, he’s not afraid to pass and give up shots to get his teammates involved.”
Heard, a 6-foot-8 power forward, brings length and a high-motor.
“He’s a hard-working kid. He can rebound, he’s big on put-back dunks and he’s a shot blocker.”
Freeman is a guard with good size that often gets overlooked playing alongside other great talent.
“A lot of people aren’t talking about him but he’s a great shooter.”
Juniors Elias Harden and Evan Jester both bring versatility and athleticism. Harden, a four-star wing prospect according to 247Sports, has a chance to be special.
“He’s got offers from about six or seven Division-I schools and he’s just a pure shooter. He’s an athletic kid. He’s gotten a lot better since we’ve been working on him this offseason.
“Jester is another one of those unknown kids,” McKissic told me. At 6-foot-6, his skillset projects well in Sandy Creek’s style of play. “I’m expecting big numbers from him this season on offense and on defense.”
Xavier Brewer will also see plenty of time as a sophomore and freshman guard TJ Bickerstaff has had an exceptional offseason and will fight to see the court.
“We are going to use him [Bickerstaff] kind of to just get his feet wet this year…If you don’t guard him he’ll put up a lot of numbers this season.”
Piecing It Together
With a talented roster expected to do great things this year, the one question mark was would the players be able to mesh with their new coach and form a quick bond heading into the season. Luckily for Sandy Creek fans and possibly bad news for the rest of the state, Coach McKissic feels like everything has gelled quickly.
“I think it was just a match made in Heaven. They are great kids, the community is a great community and I think they bought into it very quick what I was selling, with my main goal for them is just help the kids get scholarships and get looks. I think being that that was my main goal and it wasn’t all about winning, they bought in real quick.”
It takes a special group of kids to get adjusted to a new leader so seamlessly.
“They are just great people, I can say that. The kids are a different kind than the ones I’ve worked with in the past. They are all self-motivated and they all have high GPAs and are very focused…It wasn’t a hard transition.”
The perfect recipe is in place. A fun-loving leader who can keep players motivated with a great group of kids who are hungry to compete and contend for the program’s first-ever state championship. Before long, Sandy Creek might not just be known as a football powerhouse, but a force to be reckoned with come winter time as well.
All Photos Courtesy of Anthony McKissic & Sandy Creek Basketball
In Class AA, No. 4 Greater Atlanta Christian has seven state titles to its name. After a 19-10 season and a second round exit a year ago, former two-time region champion as a player, David Eaton, steps in to try and capture the school’s eighth championship. Coach Eaton replaces Eddie Martin, the maestro behind numerous state championships, most recently during his tenures at GAC and Norcross.
With a new head coach in place, leading scorer Garrett Covington, Jacob Hoffman, Charlie O’Briant and Brian Coffey Jr. all return. Coffey, a junior, holds offers from North Florida, UNC-Asheville and Presbyterian already. When asked about becoming an upperclassman and playing for a new coach, Coffey said that learning how to play for Eaton has been an easy transition.
“So far everything has been running smooth. He definitely trusts me with the ball, so our relationship can only grow from there,” explained Coffey. “He puts his trust in me and I trust his system so as the year goes on we’ll be fine.”
Going from a veteran coach to a younger coach who has seen success himself while at Wando High School in South Carolina winning a state championship in 2013-14, there have been some changes in coaching style and philosophy.
“It’s not necessarily a big transition but it’s definitely not the same. Last year I usually ran the offense and looked for the open man first. But this season coach wants me to make some of the calls and make some of the decisions on the fly when I’m out there on the court…It’s basically having a lot more freedom to lead the team and have a say.”
With Coffey’s expanded role as a floor general, he feels like his leadership is ready to take the next step.
“They encourage me to talk a lot and I can sense guys looking up to me and turning to me for calls. I feel like they accept me as a leader on the team.”
No Days Off
Coffey and the rest of the Spartans will be challenged each and every night playing in the tough Region 6-AA which features the likes of No. 2 Pace Academy, No. 6 Holy Innocents’ and Lovett. Going up against some of the best talent the classification has to offer brings out the best in the competitive Coffey’s game.
“It’s definitely fun. You want to play against the best, not only to measure yourself against the best but just for the simple fact that it’s fun,” said the point guard who averaged 12.9 points and 5.0 assists per game as a sophomore.
Coffey received an early season litmus test against the defending Class A-Private state champions, St. Francis, on Saturday. The Knights boast five-star senior guard Kobi Simmons and Duluth transfer Anthony Showell, who together form one of the most potent backcourts in the state. In the end, the Spartans rallied from a three point halftime deficit to upend St. Francis 77-69. Covington led GAC with 22 points while Coffey added 21. For the Knights, Simmons poured in 23 and Showell paced all scorers with 24.
Does playing against highly touted prospects motivate Coffey?
“It gives me an extra drive. It should be a personal challenge to everybody because you’re measuring how you are against top competition. You should stand up to the challenge and not be afraid to play,” stated Coffey. “I like playing against top competition. It’s just a chance to make me more focused and more ready to play the game.”
When asked if there is one player that he enjoyed playing against or has his sights on for the upcoming season, Coffey mentioned two players.
“We played McIntosh last year. It got me going playing against [Furman-commit] Jordan Lyons. …This year I have to say Pace and Wendell Carter. We lost to them three times last year and I want to at least get a couple wins under my belt.”
This Is Sparta
Brian Coffey might be the lead ball handler for the Spartans, but he doesn’t power the offense alone. Garrett Covington a 2015-16 Gwinnett Daily Post Super-Six selection (16.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Jacob Hoffman (12.1 ppg) are two of the team’s leading scorers and two guys he loves playing with.
“All of them are great. We are all closer from last year. We all trust each other; we have fun with each other and have a great relationship on and off the court. We are all the leaders of the team. We get practice going and pick up the intensity in practice,” explained Coffey. “It’s never about one person. I can count on Garrett to score if he needs to score or Jacob to hit a big three. We have a lot of people we can depend on so it’s fun playing with those guys.”
Coffey touched on some of the Spartans’ key pieces further in depth.
“Jacob is someone who can knock down the open three whenever you need him. He doesn’t shy away from big shots when we need it. We can depend on him.
“G [Covington], he’s our toughest player on the team. He brings a lot of toughness and intensity in rebounding and on defense. He brings out our competitive spirit.
“Charlie [O’Briant] competes too. He’s going to bring us a lot of rebounds and he’s going to set good screens. On defense he is going to play hard; everyone plays hard.”
After finding out what three of GAC’s biggest pieces bring to the table, I asked Brian to assess himself and let fans know what to expect out of the talented junior.
“I don’t want a main emphasis on one certain thing, I want to able to do all things,” he explained. “I want to be able to facilitate with my guys and score when I need to. But I really want to bring leadership and confidence to the team.”
Learning From Last Year
Crawford County, the defending state runner-up, downed the Spartans 88-81 in overtime to end GAC’s season in the second round. This year, Coffey feels that the Spartans are ready to take a step further and challenge for another state championship.
“This year it’s not just about one person. I feel like just our comradery alone can help us get over that hump, because when you play for each other and not for yourself you tend to play harder.”
Brian’s unselfish play has not only gained respect from his coaches and teammates, but has also piqued the interest of college scouts. His recruiting has heated up and with a few offers already in hand, I wanted to find out exactly what the recruiting process of a high school basketball player is like. I asked Brian whether the process was what he imagined growing up or a whole different animal.
“It’s definitely different. I remember when I was a kid I was just hoping to get a letter, but now I know that letters don’t really mean anything,” explained Coffey.
“The recruiting process is something cool to go through but it can be stressful sometimes. At the end of the day you do enjoy it. I never knew it would end up like this but I’m happy with my progress so far and so far it seems to be picking up a lot and I just hope to continue to get better and earn more looks.”
As a player with realistic goals of playing Division-I basketball, does it ever get overwhelming or add an extra pressure to perform? Coffey doesn’t think so.
“When I play in the games I don’t think about colleges or anything like that. I just focus on playing for my team and getting the W. That’s all I care about: winning and playing for my teammates. It’s never just about me, it’s about the team.”
Speaking about winning, Coffey thinks the Spartans have as good a chance as anyone to make a deep run into the postseason and challenge for a Region 6 title.
“We are capable of doing it this year. If we win our region it’s going to motivate us and start us going towards the playoffs. I think we have a good shot.”
Feature Photo By Ty Freeman
|Here is a quick rundown on some of the best 3A matchups between GHSA teams this season:
|11/20 – North Atlanta5A at No. 10 South Atlanta|
|11/21 –Westminster vs. No. 5 Sandy Creek4A|
|11/24 – No. 4 East Jackson at No. 3 Westlake6A|
|11/28 – No. 3 Morgan County vs. No. 1 Lithonia4A (Hardwood Jam Fest)|
|11/28 – No. 4 East Jackson vs. Grayson6A (On the Radar Hoops)|
|11/28 – Riverwood5A at No. 6 Blessed Trinity|
|12/4 – No. 3 Morgan County at No. 1 Laney|
|12/4 – No. 6 Blessed Trinity at No. 10 South Atlanta|
|12/4 – No. 7 Callaway at No. 7 Greenville1A|
|12/4 – No. 9 Central-Macon at Westside-Macon|
|12/5 – Buford4A at No. 3 Morgan County|
|12/8 – No. 3 Morgan County at No. 4 East Jackson|
|12/8 – Dawson County at No. 8 East Hall|
|12/8 – Cedar Grove at No. 10 South Atlanta|
|12/11 – Banks County at No. 8 East Hall|
|12/11 – Northside-Warner Robins5A at No. 9 Central Macon|
|12/12 – No. 8 Henry County4A at No. 8 East Hall|
|12/12 – No. 2 Jenkins vs. No. 8 Berkmar6A (Valhalla Classic)|
|12/12 – No. 6 LaGrange5A at No. 7 Callaway|
|12/15 – No. 7 Callaway at No. 6 LaGrange5A|
|12/19 – No. 6 Blessed Trinity vs. South Paulding5A|
|12/21 – No. 10 South Atlanta vs. No. 6 LaGrange5A (War Eagle Classic)|
|12/22 – No. 10 South Atlanta vs. Buford4A (War Eagles Classic)|
|12/28 – No. 2 Jenkins vs. Buford4A (Grayson Ram Classic)|
|12/29 – Thomson at No. 1 Laney|
|12/30 – No. 2 Jenkins vs. Kennesaw Mountain6A (Grayson Ram Classic)|
|1/2 – No. 7 Callaway at Harris County|
|1/8 – Westminster at No. 6 Blessed Trinity|
|1/9 – No. 1 Laney at No. 3 Morgan County|
|1/12 – Cedar Grove at No. 6 Blessed Trinity
1/12 – Westside-Macon at No. 9 Central-Macon
|1/15 – No. 4 East Jackson at No. 3 Morgan County|
|1/16 – No. 6 Blessed Trinity at No. 6 St. Pius4A|
|1/18 – No. 5 Calhoun vs. Buford4A (BCB MLK Showcase)|
|1/18 – No. 10 South Atlanta vs. No. 1 Greenforest1A (BCB MLK Showcase)|
|1/19 – No. 7 Callaway at Rockmart|
|1/19 – No. 8 East Hall at Banks County|
|1/22 – No. 2 Jenkins at Johnson-Savannah|
|1/23 – No. 3 Morgan County at Buford4A|
|1/26 – No. 3 Morgan County at Jefferson|
|2/2 – No. 6 Blessed Trinity at Westminster|
|2/2 – No. 7 Callaway at Pepperell|
Entering the 2015-16 high school basketball season, there are many teams with dreams and aspirations of capturing a title. But there is one school that seems to be on a mission and has a hunger that has been growing since an unfortunate early ending a year ago after an unblemished 28-0 regular season.
The McIntosh Chiefs were in cruise control entering the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs before starting point guard Will Washington (12.7 ppg, 9.3 apg) went down with a broken wrist on a layup attempt against M.L. King. The Chiefs would fall 66-65, ending their shot at the dream season.
With a loaded senior class returning, the Chiefs have one last shot at making history. Jordan Lyons (24.7 ppg) is one of the stars on this balanced team. The guard has committed to Furman and thinks that fun things are in store for McIntosh fans and fans of basketball in general.
“This year fans can definitely expect to see a very mature and organized team, a team that executes well. A team that can get up and down but can also run plays in the half court. Very exciting. A team that is going to play good defense; a veteran team,” explained Lyons.
And Lyons ain’t lyin’. Eight seniors are all expected to contribute heavily and have the experience to do so. Lyons described Washington as “one of the best true point guards in the state.” He continued on to say, “He’s always looking to make the right pass. …He’s our floor general.”
A missing piece to last year’s puzzle might have been found in Isaac Kellum (13.8 ppg), a 6-foot-4 swingman who transferred over from Fayette County this summer.
“Isaac brings us the length and athleticism at the three spot that we never really had,” said Lyons.
Kellum will also help out rebounding on the interior alongside the likes of recent Wofford-commit Dishon Lowery (10.5 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.3 bpg) and Chase Walter (10.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.8 bpg).
“They are both going to rebound. They both love contact, they both bang, they both block shots and alter shots and do things out of bigs that we need.”
As balanced as the starting five is, Lyons is quick to remind us not to forget about the depth on the bench. Braxton Shaw, who finished second on the team in three-pointers made last season as a junior, is back to bring a lethal deep threat. Lyons tabbed him as “one of the best sharpshooters out there.”
Ulysses Brown brings sticky defense on the perimeter and Brendon Rowan is the consummate glue-guy that helps Coach Jason Eisele’s team out in a plethora of different ways.
The Lead Lyon
With all the perfect components in place, there still has to be a centerpiece to complete the work of art that is the McIntosh Chiefs. That centerpiece is none other than Mr. Jordan Lyons himself. Efficiency is the name of the game for Lyons with his astronomical shooting numbers (66% 2PT, 87% FT, 45% 3PT). But by being the top-scoring option on one of the best teams in the state, does that bring an extra burden or pressure applied to Lyons’ shoulders? He doesn’t think so.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s pressure on me. Scoring is really just what I do. It’s my big time role and the team needs me to score points. I’ve been the leading scorer on the team since my freshman year so I think Coach Eisele has put a lot of confidence in me over these past four years which has really helped my play on the court because I know he believes in me.”
Even though Lyons might fill up the box score nightly, he knows he can’t do it alone.
“I can’t do it by myself. I need the help of my great teammates and I know I’ll get the help from them.”
Lyons mentioned Coach Eisele and the confidence he has instilled in him and touched on it further.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Eisele, I love him to death. He brought me into the varsity program as a 14-year-old,” explained the senior shooting guard who has scored 1,737 points over his career and is now chasing Gabby Seiler’s all-time record of 2,003. “He gave me the confidence to be a very good player at the varsity level at 14 years old…He’s always believed in me. He’s stuck with me through everything.”
It’s not only an exciting time for the players and fans, but for the coaching staff as well. Eisele has a loaded group and him and his staff have matured through the years along with the Class of 2016. Attention to detail has been more and more pronounced and a tight and clean style of play has been the result. Before this year’s senior class arrived at McIntosh, the Chiefs had been a middle of the road team, going 12-11, 16-12 and 12-12 before the program and culture changing class arrived for the 2012-13 season.
Year-one saw the Chiefs finish 17-8. Year-two, 19-10 before nearly putting it all together last season at 29-1. It has been a constant growing process and the fruits of McIntosh’s labor are finally ready to come to fruition, but for that to happen, there is only one fitting ending to this storybook tale: a state championship.
“The ring is really the most important thing to all of us,” stated Lyons. “Last year we won the first region championship in our school’s history. Our whole year that was our goal.”
McIntosh, Lyons, Lowery, Washington, Coach Eisele, the entire group, understands that it’s now or never.
“This year, there’s no second chance. We all understand there is no next year, no tomorrow. This is the last time, the last opportunity. We really got to go get it,” said Lyons. “We got to be focused day in and day out. We got to be on a straight line and eliminate everyone else that’s not in a straight line, so we can get to where we want to be. We just got to focus on what we have to do every day and just get better every day and we’ll know that we’ll be okay.”
Extra motivation to accomplish the dream of winning a state title stems from last year’s heartbreaking loss after the injury to Washington.
“It’s personal to him and it’s personal to all of us. We’ve been waiting for this for four years. We know this is our year; we got to go do it. We know we can. We all know we can.”
It is no doubt it’s state championship or bust, but when asked what this group of seniors and he personally would like to leave as a lasting legacy, Lyons said, “I definitely want people to remember that I always wanted to be a good teammate. I always wanted to lift my teammates up.”
“I just wanted to put McIntosh on the map. McIntosh has never been known for basketball and I know when Will, myself and Dishon came into the varsity program, especially when we told ourselves we wanted to make an impact on this program, we wanted to take this program to heights and levels that they’ve never seen before and we’ve just been doing great things since our freshmen year. We’ve been blessed with many opportunities, records broken, we’ve done many things in our career at McIntosh and we are very blessed and fortunate to have those opportunities. …We want to be known as great humble players that never took anything for granted.”
With one solitary goal in mind and a group of men with a respected leader in charge, Jordan Lyons and McIntosh should not have to worry about ever taking things for granted.
Featured Image Photo By Michael Clifton / www.kombatkamera.com